ISTANBUL – While the latest polls suggest that a majority of Turks will approve the package of constitutional changes in a referendum this Sunday, the campaigning came to a halt on Thursday. It’s Idul Fitri, and that makes Turkey quiet:: no noisy election caravans any more, no rousing music any more from stands of a wide range of political parties, no intense discussions on the street. Three days to go, then the voter can speak.
The campaign of both the EVET (YES) camp in favour and the HAYIR (NO) camp against the constitutional reforms has been intense over the last couple of weeks. The leaders of the three biggest political parties sometimes rallied in three cities on one day to encourage people to support of reject the constitutional changes. Arguments concerning content didn’t always matter. The leaders also spoke about subjects like an amnesty for members of the Kurdish separatist movement PKK and the headscarf ban at universities, issues that have nothing to do with the package of changes.
At demonstrations the same thing happened: “No” demonstrations seemed to be “anti-AKP” demonstrations, people even protested rising water and electricity prices. The accusations against Erdogan are far-reaching: he supposedly wants to re-introduce the sultanate, with himself as sultan.
In general the discussion is carried on with words, but some fighting has been erupting as well: both pro and anti campaigners have resorted to violence. But in fact nobody really doubts the urgent need for a new constitution: the current one dates from 1982 and was written by the military, which was in power at the time. But exactly how the constitution must be changed, and by whom, is a matter of deep concern for Turks.
The campaign makes clear that there is more at stake than just the package of constitutional changes. Suspicion against the AKP plays a big role: the opposition fears that the AKP will use the constitutional changes to get a firm grip on judicial power. The parliament gets more power in appointing judges, and the AKP has a firm majority in parliament.
However, that can change next summer, when the general elections are planned. The outcome of the referendum will be an indication of the popularity of Prime Minister Erdogan and the AKP. Political parties are using the referendum as an opportunity to informally start campaigning for the elections in eleven months’ time.
Meanwhile, some famous Turks are also involved in the debate. When writer and Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk declared he would vote in favour of the constitutional changes, it was front page news. And the decision to vote “yes” by Turkey’s most famous singer, Sezen Aksu, was in all the papers. The AKP uses columnists of pro-government newspapers in their campaign, while in the NO camp several well-known artists have lent their support.
The latest poll says the public will say YES on Sunday. But watch out: the pollster has close ties with the AKP, and according to other polls eight to ten percent of voters are still undecided. Idul Fitri made the campaigning stop at just the right moment: there are three days left to contemplate in silence over Yes and No.